Based on the one shot manga, Amon Game by Uki Atsuya, Cencoroll is a unique movie that confidently deviates from the standard anime practices in a range of elements, ranging from plot to production. There are numerous titles that showcase extremely original plot, cutting edge animation, or some other production aspect that aides in the art of effective storytelling. I recently mentioned in my Japanese ANIME post several series actually exemplify these characteristics (while many titles that do not), however, rarely do you see a series like Cencoroll balance all of these aspects and do it with such a unique twist that criticizing it becomes difficult.
I happened across Cencoroll while I was searching for popular anime torrents on bakaBT and was instantly attracted to the promotional poster. Intrigued, I downloaded the movie and jumped right into it and was pleasantly surprised with what I had found.
It’s only a half an hour in length, essentially functioning as a short story. There is invariably little room for characters to develop in 27 minutes, with the characters having somewhat apathetic natures. This is probably the one qualm I have with the movie. Though it does not detract terribly from the movie, the character palette feels somewhat bland and hollow, despite the fact that our characters are in there teens. I do, however, entertain the possibility that the nearly-apathetic display of emotion was chosen to accentuate the subtle differences that are present in the other characters. Though all three main characters display a certain amount of boredom typical of a teenager, Yuki, the female lead, for example, reveals a lot of her own curiosity during the show’s outset.
Cencoroll boasts a truly unique premise and artistic vision, blending both its character animation seamlessly with the set environment. This allows the show to carry a certain surrealness about it which is further reinforced by the presence of our shape-shifting Cenco and others “creatures” like “him”. While the character designs are simplistic, they are extremely expressive and their actions are well animated throughout the show. This, in particular, goes for Cenco’s transformations which, although imaginatively bizarre, are extremely fluid. The backgrounds are very well rendered as well, with certain scenes reminding me of Makoto Shinkai’s earlier works that he worked on himself.
Aside from the ending sequence, Cencoroll contains no thematic music whatsoever. Unlike most anime that uses music to heighten the impact of a scene, Cencoroll throws this technique out the window, and uses the lack of a dominant soundtrack to create a strange, almost eerie, feeling of calm (and potentially apathy) to great effect. Though the lack of music may at first be disconcerting, leaving the major part of the anime free of music enhances the characters in a big way.
What makes this work even more remarkable is the fact that, similarly to Shinkai’s Hoshi no Koe, Cencoroll was written, designed, directed, and animated all by Uki Atsuya. It’s a rare occurrence to find such an elaborate project produced by a single artist. What fascinates me with this idea is how much freedom and flexibility Atsuya had during the entire production process, not tied down by any limitations other than his own. Though a large production team has more manpower and ability produce a larger scale project, due to the introduction of numerous people, a push n’ pull war exists in how to direct the artistic vision for the entire group. As the nearly-sole creator of Cencoroll, Atsuya used his liberties to cohesively bring all the elements of Cencoroll together.
Though a half-hour movie may be short, if we consider the work Atsuya committed to, it should be noted that Atsuya rose to the challenge with remarkable grace. Cencoroll never felt rushed and despite certain questions being left unanswered, a second installment is already under production. There’s a little bit for everyone in this movie – action for the boys, semi-romance for the girls, and poetic storytelling for those who like it. Cencoroll, under the Atsuya’s direction, is a movie that draws from so many places but effectively presents it in a sensible and interesting manner.